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17 Feb, 2010 04:24

Diamond Fund – symbol of Russia’s splendor

There’s no better place to see Russia’s imperial grandeur than the Kremlin’s diamond fund. This unique collection dates back to Peter the Great. Some of these diamonds even saved lives and prevented wars.

Perhaps nowhere else in the world are there are so many valuables in just one small room.

Of its thousands of jewels, the Diamond Fund inside the Kremlin only displays the most jawdropping. And heading the collection are the Imperial Jewels that were worn by the Romanovs going back to Catherine the Great.

The Imperial Crown, nearly 5,000 diamonds, the second largest spinel in the world.

“People are always asking me how much all of this costs,” says Irina Polynina, Chief Expert of the Diamond Fund. “But these things are priceless – imagine the historical value of a crown worn by seven Russian emperors.”

It was Peter the Great who first assembled the vast treasures of the Russian Tsars into one secure collection. But even the best vaults could not protect the jewels from the Bolsheviks.

After the Russian Revolution, the majority of the pieces were auctioned off at Christie's in London. Historians have claimed that during the 1920s the crown jewels themselves were stored in a diplomat's house in Dublin, as collateral for a loan of 25,000 dollars that Ireland gave to the USSR.

“There was the first wave of sell-offs after the Revolution,”
says Yury Bokarev, a historian at the Russian Academy of Sciences. “But I am more concerned about what pieces may have disappeared after the fall of the Soviet Union. There were some cases, but many were hushed up.”

Yet the most valuable are still there. Not just pretty, this diamond may contain a lesson for modern diplomats. The 88-carat stone with very unusual inscriptions was first in the possession of Indian moguls, then Persian rulers, but it was delivered to the Russian Tsar after the Russian Ambassador was slain in Tehran. As a result of this gift, a war may have been avoided.

Considering Russia's history of deprivation and inequality, the opulence on display can seem overwhelming, almost inappropriate.

“Regularly visitors will ask, why do you keep them? Could they not be spent on building houses?” said Irina Polynina.

But the jewels are eternal symbols for Russians, a link with their past might and splendor.